Are your new product development effort really enough?

I find it surprising how much time and energy gets spent these days on the smallest details of a myriad of marketing communication activities while how little time and attention gets placed on effective product development. At our core, catalogers are merchants live and die by our ability to bring new, exclusive (or at least hard to find) products to the pages of catalogs.

Yet, how much real time, effort and resources is your catalog team allocating to this effort? Here are some guidelines that I highly recommend to you.

1. Challenge your product team to deliver 25 percent-plus of annual sales from new products introduced during the most recent 12 months. If you’re in an industry where the rate of natural product change is inherently greater, like technology, the goal will be higher.

2. Enroll your vendors in the task of assessing market changes and new product trends and developments. Ask them to bring you a specific number of new product ideas monthly.

3. Assuming your list is on the market, look at who’s renting it and see what those renters, particularly repeat renters, are selling to your customers.

4. Solicit new product ideas from your customers. This is much easier if you use the Web. By frequently asking them what problems they’re looking to solve will lead you to new product ideas.

5. Don’t overlook potential complimentary services or saleable content/knowledge that could be offered along with your products.

6. Take a look at your major customer segments and look for other catalogers mailing to those segments. What are they offering that might fit into your offering?

7. If your products have a high design component (such as corporate greeting cards), contract outside design firms for fresh design approaches and new product ideas.

8. Don’t avoid lower margin commodity or consumable products, as they may be integral to your customer retention or order frequency. But have enough hard-to-find products to justify a customer buying from you rather than hardware, office supplies or warehouse club big box stores that cater to businesses.

9. Review any new product’s ability to acquire or retain customers — and not merely produce current sales. Sometimes it makes sense to add or keep a slow moving, hard-to-find product in order to support your acquisition or retention efforts.

10. Realize that without a continuous flow of new, benefit-rich products, your customers will have no reason to read and shop your catalog. They’ll see it as “same old stuff.” Conversely, winning at the new product game will have your customers shouting “the new catalog is here.”

11. Remember that one hot new product can drive your business forward for months or create a whole new business. Just look at the gadget catalogs that sell I-Pod related accessories and imagine what the new I-Phone might spawn.

12. Invest in good product development people who can drive the product lines they manage forward to double-digit growth, not just baby-sit existing product line performance.

So the next time you realize that you’re spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the esoteric nuances of various key words for paid search, remember that catalogers are merchants first and foremost and what we have to sell is more important than how we sell it.

Terence Jukes is president of B2B Direct Marketing Intelligence LLC, a strategic B2B direct marketing consultancy based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that services B2B catalog company clients in the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K. and Germany. You can reach him at tjukes @ b2bdmi.com or (954) 383-5221

Comments or questions are welcome.

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